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LCQ14:Civil Service Declaration Rules

Following is a question by the Hon Emily LAU and a written reply by the Secretary for the Civil Service, Mr Joseph W P Wong, in the Legislative Council today (June 27):

Question:

Regarding the declaration by public officers of their purchase of properties, and the receipt of preferential treatment by them in purchasing properties, will the Executive Authorities inform this Council:

(a) of the existing mechanism for public officers to make the above declarations, as well as the ranks of public officers who are required to make the declarations;

(b) of the arrangement made for members of the public to read the particulars declared by public officers;

(c) whether they have found public officers to have received preferential treatment from real estate developers, such as purchasing properties at prices below market values or enjoying priority in purchasing properties, in the past ten years; if so, of the details and whether they have assessed if the receipt of preferential treatment by public officers constitutes a breach of the laws of Hong Kong or the internal guidelines of the civil service; and

(d) whether they have assessed if it is necessary to ask the Independent Commission Against Corruption to investigate the cases stated in (c) above; if it is assessed to be unnecessary, of the reasons for that?

Reply:

Madam President,

The Administration's reply is set out below, in the same order:

(a) Under existing civil service declaration rules which were promulgated in 1995 and refined over the years, the holders of certain posts are required to declare their private investments on a regular basis. These civil service posts are classified into two tiers. Tier I consists of 27 strategic posts, including those filled by civil servants at the Bureau Secretary level. Tier II posts include all directorate posts and posts designated by Bureau Secretaries/Heads of Department as carrying high risk of exposure to conflict of interest situations. At present, there are about 3,100 Tier II posts.

Officers holding Tier I and II posts are required to report their private investments, including any interest in land or buildings in Hong Kong, annually and biennially respectively. Between the annual or biennial declarations, they have to report, within 7 days, any single investment transaction which is equivalent to or exceeds $200,000 in value.

Individual Bureaux/Departments may, in the light of their specific circumstances and operational needs, prescribe supplementary declaration requirements for compliance by their staff.

As regards public servants who are not civil servants, first, they are bound by the relevant provisions in the Prevention of Bribery Ordinance. Secondly, they are also subject to the staff management and discipline rules prescribed by the public body which they serve on or work in, including rules related to declaration of investments. The public bodies are responsible for administering these internal staff management and discipline rules.

(b) Civil servants holding Tier I posts are required to register their financial interests annually including their interest in land or properties. In the case of transactions between the annual declarations, the register will be up-dated. This register is kept in the Civil Service Bureau and open to public inspection on request.

It is for individual public bodies to promulgate their own arrangements for members of the public to read the particulars declared by public servants who are not civil servants.

(c) Under existing civil service rules, all civil servants are required to avoid any real or potential conflict of interest between their private investments and official duties, and to make a report as and when any such conflict arises.

By virtue of the Acceptance of Advantages (Chief Executive's Permission) Notice, a civil servant may accept priority in purchasing a property and he may, in circumstances matching those described in para. 4(1) in the Notice, purchase a property at a discount without having to obtain special permission from the Chief Executive provided that the preferential treatment is equally available on equal terms to persons who are not civil servants and that the officer concerned has no official dealings with the tradesman or the company that offers the advantage. In other circumstances, the officer must seek special permission for soliciting or accepting the preferential treatment. Failing that, it may constitute a breach of Section 3 of the Prevention of Bribery Ordinance (PBO).

If such an advantage is a reward for an officer abusing his official position, the officer may be subject to prosecution under Section 4 of the PBO.

According to statistics kept by the Independent Commission Against Corruption (ICAC), they had in the past 10 years received three reports relating to civil servants accepting advantages in the form of internal subscription or a discount in purchasing properties. The allegations in two reports were found unsubstantiated while the remaining one was not pursuable due to lack of sufficient information. The ICAC had not received reports of a similar nature relating to public servants who are not civil servants.

(d) Under existing civil service guidelines, civil servants are required to report to the ICAC (or the Police) all instances of attempted bribery (or other crime/alleged crime) which they may come across in the course of their duty. Specifically, where there is a prima facie case to suspect a breach of the provisions in the PBO, it should be reported to the ICAC. Officers have no discretion in deciding which cases to report.

End/Wednesday, June 27, 2001
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